Indonesia demands compensation for Timor Sea spill

JAKARTA, July 22, 2010 (AFP) - Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on Thursday demanded compensation for an oil spill off northwestern Australia that campaigners say destroyed fishermen's livelihoods.

"Certainly we will carry out our responsibility to solve this problem. We'll propose a claim to the company causing the oil spill while maintaining good diplomatic relations with the governments of Australia and Thailand," he told a cabinet meeting.

"What's clear is the company must give something as accountability for the incident," he said, adding that Indonesians affected should "receive decent compensation".

The Thai-operated West Atlas rig dumped thousands of barrels of oil into the Timor Sea between the Indonesian archipelago and Australia after a leak began in August last year.

Yudhoyono did not specify how much compensation Indonesia would seek from the rig, which is operated by PTTEP Australasia.

But local non-governmental group the West Timor Care Foundation, which supports poor fishermen in eastern Indonesia, has called for a figure of around 15 billion dollars.

Environmental group WWF says more than 400,000 litres (over 105,000 gallons) of oil have been spilt, generating a slick spanning 10,000-25,000 square kilometres (up to 9,650 square miles).

The West Timor Care Foundation estimates the spill as even larger and says it has affected the livelihoods of some 18,000 fishermen.

"Fish, dolphins and sea turtles were killed and the pollution posed health problems to the community. We don't know how long it will take to heal the ecosystem," said the group's head Ferdi Tanoni.

WWF earlier said the spill was "one of Australia's biggest environmental disasters".

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